Resource Guards, Protects his Humans

It’s a tricky situation with Bertie hard to understand.

I first thought that his barking behaviour was driven by lack of confidence and some fearfulness, but as time went on I saw it wasn’t this at all.

The Spaniel mix was fine when I arrived, but when he had checked me out with a lot of sniffing, he barked at me like a warning.

Mixed-up

The more questions I asked of the couple, the more mixed-up Bertie seemed.

Resource guards his humansHe’s a mix of angry, territorial and affectionate. Most of all, he’s fiercely protective of his humans – or of anyone coming too close to them. It’s more than just protective – he resource guards them.

He would bark suddenly at the smallest thing and a moment later be friendly. It’s not that he was fearful of me or that he didn’t like me. He simply wanted to guard his resources – the couple.

We sat and talked. Some of the time he was beside me, friendly. Later he sat in front of the man, looking at me, being fussed by him. The smallest of movements from me triggered sudden aggressive-sounding barking.

I asked for his harness and lead to be put on because I couldn’t be sure that I was safe.

Bertie is completely different when the lady and gentleman aren’t with him. He stays with the father happily – until they come back when he immediately becomes aggressive with him. ‘Keep away from my humans – my food vendors!’. He resource guards them like they are something belonging solely to him and nobody else should come near.

Resource guards one from the other.

Even when the couple are sitting together, he resource guards one from the other. If he’s sitting with them on the sofa and one walks out of the room, he barks fiercely as he or she enters and walks towards them. He/she is MINE! We have quite a simple plan for this.

Like many dogs, Bertie’s not comfortable when someone walks directly towards him when out either. (See The Pulse Project) This is mainly when he’s on lead, so again, he probably resource guards the person holding the lead.

Bertie is now six years old and they adopted him a couple of years ago. Previously he had lived with a sick person who’d died. It’s not a big stretch of the imagination to think perhaps he was very protective of this person.

Bertie also has always had such bad separation issues that the man now works nights so that he can be at home when the lady works. He is never left alone. The three hours each day when neither can be at home, a dog sitter takes Bertie to her house – where he is quite happy with no resource guarding of humans.

They are making huge sacrifices to do their best for him. Very possibly some of these efforts to make him happy is unwittingly contributing to the reason he resource guards them.

Bertie is simply on high alert all the time he’s with his humans, looking out for them. 

Slaves

How the man and the lady behave towards Bertie has a large part to play. They obey his every whim and lavish him with food for doing nothing, pouring attention on him. They behave like his slaves. What are slaves? Slaves are those who are owned and do what they are told. They are belongings.

I believe this is how Bertie perceives them, as his possessions – so he resource guards them in much the same way as he might a big bone.

For all the attention, he appears uneasy and depressed. Always worried about losing them. He’s never playful. He would be a much happier dog if they could be very consistent and given some boundaries.

The start is for them to try to act like they themselves are the ‘protectors’ and not ‘resources’. They must stop feeding him all the time as all they have become are his personal food vendors, apart from making him overweight. It not only makes him possessive of them, constantly demanding food, but also takes away the value of food for the work we need to do.

They should now use food only for rewarding and thanking him – and his meals. Working for some of his meals with it either in Kongs or sprinkled around outside should be very good for him mentally.

Turn the tables.

This should start to turn the tables. If his humans don’t behave like his servants and food machines, he should stop regarding them as his servants and food vendors – the reason he resource guards them.

Bertie now needs things to be consistent and steady. All the work they will be doing should help make him a bit less angry, unsettled and demanding. It will be a bumpy ride to start with as things gradually change and and he tries harder.

There is a lot to do, and when they have made some good progress we will take a fresh look at the situation and begin to work on being able to leave him alone.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bertie. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where any aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

Guarding Food. Guarding Resources.

“We must show the dog who’s boss”.

Rex guards his food.

Guarding food and resources can be a contentious issue where human response is concerned.

Many conscientious dog owners, doing what they believe is best, follow dangerous, outdated notions.

These techniques can involve, right from the start as routine training, interfering with a puppy’s food while he’s eating and forcing objects out of his mouth. An easy-going puppy may simply tolerate it. Another may not. Instead of making the puppy back away from something he values, it can teach him to run off with the item and then, cornered, defend both the item and himself. I’ve seen this many times.

How might we ourselves react if someone tried to take bits of food off our plate or mugged us for something we had picked up?

There is that infamous clip of Cesar Millan ‘dominating’ a Labrador guarding food and his bowl. Guess what happened? Yes, the poor dog ultimately had no choice other than to bite after all his warning signals had been ignored. As a result of the uproar about this, he was interviewed by Alan Titchmarsh which is interesting to watch.

Guarding food when someone is closeSomehow this ‘being the Alpha’ with our dog thing had became popular culture, but it’s been totally debunked over recent years. Not only was it based on false assumptions regarding wolf packs (and domestic dogs aren’t wild wolves), but that using force is the only way to create an obedient dog.

Even this word ‘obedience’ suggests dominance and forced compliance.

Just one problem with this approach to resource guarding is that a strong-minded and confident dog is likely to stand up for himself – eventually. Some dogs genetically are more wired to guard.

If a ‘dominated’ dog backs off due to being overpowered by a particular human, what happens when someone else tries it?

“Why should I want your food anyway”?

How much better and simpler in every way it is to teach the dog that you’re no threat to his food; if nobody wants his food, what’s the point of guarding food after all?

Giant Schnauzer Rex is a very intelligent and energetic adolescent dog. He’s on the go most of the time when people are about, back and forth looking for trouble. This includes nicking anything he can that may be of value to his humans. It triggers a chain of reactions.

He’s probably under-stimulated where appropriate enrichment is concerned, so he orchestrates his own action.

It’s only natural for us to try to control over-excited and aroused behaviour by trying to stop it. Unfortunately scolding and warnings, Uh-Uh and NO, introduce conflict and confrontation. Even conflict can be rewarding and reinforcing in a way (else why do humans enjoy certain sports so much?).

Rex’ owners will now be on the lookout for every little good or desired behaviour to reinforce instead.

It’s proven beyond doubt that removing reinforcement from unwanted behaviours and adding reinforcement to behaviours we DO want leads to success.

Interfering with Rex’ food while he’s eating.

Using the ‘interfering with his food’ technique seemed to work when Rex was a young puppy. Unfortunately, guarding and growling re-appeared big time when he started to be fed something that was, to him, of much higher value.

Instead of leaving him to eat in peace, various suggestions had been given including hand-feeding him, touching him while he was eating and taking his bowl away. Instead of feeding him somewhere out of the way, the bowl is deliberately put where people regularly have to pass by him.

He freezes. He growls. They reprimand him. This can only go in one direction.

He simply needs to know that nobody is interested in his food anymore. He will be fed somewhere out of the way.

After some weeks of this they may from time to time walk past him at a distance, not looking at him, and just chuck in the direction of his bowl something particularly tasty – maybe a leftover from their own meat dinner. The food must be something of higher value to him than his own food. They shouldn’t hover or speak to him.

‘I happen to be passing anyway so here’s something nice’.

Over time they can get a little closer. If he growls, they have got too close or maybe stood still, and will need to leave it for a few days and do it from further away the next time. Any approaching person will deliver something better than what he has.

This really is in case of emergency should later someone, without thinking, get too close to him. They should only do this from time to time – a random and casual thing.

Back in the day people would have said, ‘Leave the dog alone while he’s eating’. We expect a lot from our dogs today.

We may need to do some serious, systematic work on general resource guarding.

‘Operation Calm’ is the first priority.

Rex’ high arousal levels and restlessness make work on his guarding food and other items more difficult.

This is a huge challenge because it’s hard for us humans, like old dogs, to learn new tricks. It also means that Rex will initially become very frustrated when his usual attention-seeking tactics no longer work. He will try harder. They will hold their nerve and add as much appropriate enrichment to his life as possible, activities that don’t depend upon their ‘fielding’ the behaviour he throws at them but instead are initiated by themselves.

I suggest very regular short bursts of activity including mental enrichment, hunting, foraging and sniffing, particularly in the evenings when they sit down and he’s the most trouble. He then won’t need to be pestering for attention.

Guarding food becomes unnecessary.

If he feels it’s not under threat, Rex won’t need to be guarding food. If he has plenty of attention offered, he won’t need so desperately to indulge in the attention-seeking ploys that he knows get the most reaction.

Getting Rex calmer involves most aspects of his life and will be a gradual thing.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Rex because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where any aggression is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

Food Guarding, Resource Guarding. Biting Works.

Food guarding dogTelyn, the Sprolly, is a friendly and polite dog. She is a lucky dog also – living in a lovely family with three teenage girls who all play an active part in her life.

However, Telyn has bitten several times. The biting has included family members and other people.

It happens around one thing only – something that, to her, is edible.

When very young she had genetic meningitis (she’s now had it twice) and, when on steroids, was constantly ravenous. This is probably where the food guarding started.

Each time she bites, fear is involved – that of losing something. Food items she’s bitten for have ranged from a complete Christmas ham joint, to a treat a man was giving his own dog, to something on the floor nobody even saw.

She may also attack another dog over a food item. 

Biting works.

The result for Telyn most times has been the same.

The person backs off and she gets to keep the item. Success.

Very unfortunately, recent advice they were given will have escalated her fear issues badly. It can only have added to her existing terror of machinery noises – anything from vacuum cleaner to power tools to traffic. It will also have affected her trust and relationship with her humans.

They were advised to deal with her barking due to the noise of several months’ building work being done on their house, by waving a power tool at her each time she barked!

In Telyn’s case it’s the very worst thing anyone could do.

How can making her terrified help in any way?

Things have come to a head. Telyn’s first full panic attack was triggered a couple of weeks after the work had finished – by the vacuum cleaner.

Telyn managed to leap the high fence in her panic.

They eventually managed to catch her. They raised the fence. She then found another place to jump out a couple of days later.

Interestingly, Telyn has just spent the past couple of weeks in kennels. She has come back much calmer. What has been the difference? Less arousal in terms of exciting play, no encountering traffic on walks and no machine-type noises perhaps?

Their house itself may now be ‘contaminated’ with fear from building noises or even that power tool. At the kennels Telyn has had a break. Hopefully as they follow my plan they will be able to build on her calmer state.

A more relaxed dog is less likely to guard resources. Using a power tool to deal with barking or guarding has to be the very worst thing they could have been told to do. Fortunately they weren’t happy with it and stopped.

Her family now will constantly reinforce their role as ‘givers’ and not potential ‘takers’. From now on, in addition to never taking anything off her, when she has anything at all in her mouth and if they are nearby, they should drop food as they walk past her.

Food guarding. How can they make biting not work?

It’s pointless guarding something that nobody wants!

So, from now on anything Telyn picks up in her mouth they should ignore. If nobody wants it she can’t guard it. Even better, if they’re walking past they can drop her something tasty (‘have this too!’) without going too close.

They should avoid forcibly taking things off her even in play. Being chased and cornered even with a ball then having it forcibly removed from her mouth, is teaching her the wrong things. Tug of war is a great game for teaching exchange and ‘give’ if done properly.

There is a very good book called ‘Mine’ by Jean Donaldson, worth reading.

Practical measures need to be taken also, to make it as impossible as they can for Telyn to bite again. She will be introduced gradually to a muzzle, vital if young children are about who may unthinkingly bend to pick up a dropped food item, for instance.

When out and about, they will either muzzle her or put her or on a long line, just in case. She could even wear a florescent yellow vest with appropriate wording for a food guarding dog – along the lines of ‘Keep Food Away’. People might think she has a medical condition but it could achieve the desired result!

They may never be able to trust Telyn 100% or let their guard down altogether, but with work they can make the likelihood of her food guarding and biting much reduced.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Telyn and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear or aggression issues of any kind are concerned. As can advice advocating punishment, as seen here. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Resource Guarding Puppy. Meltdown

Resource guarding and still only a little puppy.

A week ago a very distressed young lady phone me in the early morning. The previous evening her Miniature Pinscher puppy, Rupert, only fifteen weeks old, had a total meltdown. He was an attacking, snarling, biting little resource guarding bundle of anger.

resource guarding puppyThe vet said he had not seen anything like it, but from what examination he achieved could find nothing wrong with him. The puppy stayed with the vet overnight. The only thing anyone could think of that could have pushed Rupert over the edge was he had eaten a cigarette end (he guards or eats anything he can find).

Could nicotine have tipped him over? Could there have been something else in the cigarette?

He’s just a little puppy, not yet four months old, but in the three and a half hours I was there he never rested, let alone slept. He’d not slept for a while before I came either.

He growls or flies at anyone who comes near to him when he has something of value (to him). Taking his lead on and off is a challenge. In addition to resource guarding he’s already started barking when hearing people walking past outside.

Was his total meltdown due to a build-up of events?

It is very unusual to find a puppy of Rupert’s age to resource guard items with such determination. On close questioning I feel that his scary meltdown on that day was the result of a build-up of events – trigger stacking. Three weeks ago he began to grumble when carried down the stairs to toilet outside (he lives in a flat) so now he walks. About ten days ago he was given a squeaky pig. He was dismembering it, as puppies do. When the lady went to pick up the stuffing, he went for her. He now might growl if he was approached when lying in his bed.

I do wonder whether the start of this had anything to do with a ‘fear period’.

Things went from bad to worse. More ‘triggers’ happened including, with the hot weather, the balcony doors being left open. He could see and hear people and dogs below. This triggered furious and constant barking.

Slowly, over a short period, his stress levels will have been building up. Finally, maintenance men did their regular weekly work in the building. Where before Rupert took little notice, this time he went ballistic.

Then he ate the cigarette end. They couldn’t take it off him.

This was the day that he turned into an ‘aggressive monster’. He had a meltdown. Tiny though he is, they were afraid of him.

Despite the checks the vet did, I’m not convinced that there isn’t more to this – a medical issue of some sort. If we make little progress, I would hope the vet is willing to take blood tests, including full range of thyroid tests and values. I would also hope the vet could help us with medication to help Rupert’s mental state, something easier to achieve in the US than here in the UK it seems.

This must be a distressing state for a puppy who should still be carefree at under 16 weeks. Being on high alert results in sleep deprivation, something else affecting his stress levels.

Aggressive resource guarding behaviour gets the desired result.

Rupert has learnt that his aggressive resource guarding behaviour has the desired effect, that of driving people away and leaving him with the item. This is a dilemma. If the item is then forcibly removed or he is cornered, he then will become even more of a guarder. If it’s left, he learns that his behaviour works.

Furthermore, he will now no longer do an exchange for anything – nothing is more valuable to him than the item he has in his mouth.

I look at the basic emotion driving the behaviour and what’s in it for Rupert. Resource guarding has to involve fear of losing something or insecurity, or else why would he feel the need to guard things or his own space?

The first step has to be for Rupert to know, whenever he is approached, that the person is a ‘giver’ and never a ‘taker’. That is fundamental.

Yawning

He is fed on what I consider excellent food – raw Nutriment, but I feel it’s worth trying some high quality kibble for a while. Sometimes a complete change in diet can change a dog.

The advantage of kibble over raw is that you can carry it in your pocket! Instead of being put down in a bowl, food can be used to emphasise the lady’s role as ‘giver’. Every time she has to walk towards or past Rupert she can just drop or throw food. Every time he has anything in his mouth such as a toy, she can drop him food whilst showing no interest in what he’s holding. Instead of guarding the item, afraid he’s going to be tricked into dropping it, he will soon learn he can put it down, eat the food and then pick it up again.

Two good games for dogs reluctant to let go or give.

I have two favourite games for a puppy with guarding issues:

Fetch, using two identical balls – they must be the same so the dog can’t prefer one over the other. Throw one but don’t throw the second ball until he drops the first. Throwing the second ball before the first is dropped is bribery. Throwing it afterwards is reinforcement.  If he decides to run off with the ball they will ignore it and ignore Rupert. Game over and fun finished. Battersea balls are unbreakable, a funny shape for random bounce, and light.

The Tuggy game played correctly is invaluable too for teaching ‘let go’ or ‘give’. Here are two very good videos from Victoria Stilwell: Teach a Dog to ‘Take It’ and ‘Drop It’  and then Teach Your Dog Proper Tug of War.

Amongst things Rupert picks up and guards are his lead, anything dropped on the floor or left within reach, stones and rubbish when out, sticks, a leaf….his own toys. Strangely, he doesn’t guard his food bowl.

Another problem is that when aroused, Rupert may fly at the lady. She has bites up her arms.  We have looked at ways to redirect his need to attack something onto wrecking a carton of recyclable rubbish with kibble dropped in it! It’s only happening because of his extremely high stress levels, of course.

The young lady is very switched on. She has already really helped Rupert with her research and patience. Had he gone to live with someone else, things could well be even worse. It is nothing to do with her. I suspect it’s primarily genetic, with maybe an element of early competing with his siblings for food and very possibly some sort of chemical imbalance in his own body.

Rupert is a project without a guaranteed outcome, but we will do our very best.

Five days have gone by. Things going in the right direction: My friend just came round who hasn’t seen Rupert in about a week and he said Rupert was the best behaved he’s ever been. No bite marks or anything. He even had a little nap whilst he was here and we were talking. 
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Rupert. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Angry When Suddenly Woken. He Bites.

Diego is a cute and characterful Shih Tzu, two and a half years old. He lives with a young lady, her mother and her grandmother. Three generations.

Angry? Diego? You wouldn’t believe it.

He wakes up angryDiego (what a great name) is the youngest lady’s dog. As she is out at work all day, her mother in particular is involved with looking after him.

The elderly lady is scared of him.

The main reason I was called in is due to Diego’s seemingly instinctive angry and aggressive reaction when suddenly woken or disturbed.

He flies at the two older ladies. They have bites to show for it.

The grandmother has a stool on which she puts her feet. Diego’s favourite sleeping place is on the floor by the footstool. If the lady so much as moves her foot Diego may wake and fly at her.

The mother also has bites from when she has moved suddenly.

If it’s the young lady who moves, Diego doesn’t go for her, she goes for one of the others!

She told me that sometimes she whistles to warn Diego. That gave me my idea.

They will buy three cheap plastic whistles and wear them around their necks. Regularly then can whistle and immediately drop something particularly tasty for Diego. In time they can build up a conditioned response: whistle-food.

They can then do the same when he is sleeping – if they want to move. It will give him warning. Waking suddenly, he will look for the food instead of flying at them, angry.

The lady can then move freely.

Diego is much worse in the evening.

I believe from other things they told me that stress is building up in Diego during the day. He is on high alert for outside sounds to bark at.

The ‘angry waking’ is much worse in the evening. His stress build-up accelerates with the young lady coming home from work. She gives Diego a rapturous and exciting greeting.

She then takes him for a lovely walk – but surely too stimulating. They may meet lots of other dogs in the park and he will play frantically. Playing with more than two or three dogs, some much larger than himself, must be very arousing – slightly scary even.

He comes back home highly aroused and then it’s tea time. At about 7.30pm they  understandably want to settle down, but Diego has only just started! Now he begins the stealing of items, hoarding and guarding them.

Dealing with the over-arousal and resource guarding which I’m helping them with will undoubtedly mean that Diego will be better relaxed when he rests. We ourselves know that we don’t sleep well when over-stressed. Better quality sleep must surely help his angry waking problem.

The young lady has made herself very well-informed and it was a pleasure to work with her. She understood what I was talking about as we discussed solutions and ways of de-stressing Diego. For a start, she will ‘redesign’ walks to give him much more time sniffing and exploring in peace.

It’s probably been going on for a couple of years now so waking angry will be a habit – a learned behaviour. By calming him down in general, dealing with the resource guarding and giving him warning when they are about to move, I am hopeful the behaviour will die.

Their three months with me has now come to an end and I have received this lovely email: I really just wanted to drop you a line to thank you – the help and guidance you provided has really helped. The difference in Diego (and me!) from when we first met is astonishing. I firmly believe he is a much happier dog, I know I am a much happier human.
Diego is now happy and balanced enough, that starting daycare didn’t phase him at all. He had his first session and the man who runs it was so impressed at how Diego behaved with his dogs (5 St Bernards) and the other boarders. In fact when I brought Diego home you would never have known he spent 7 hours somewhere new – I firmly believe he wouldn’t have been able to handle that situation 4 months ago. So all in all we’re all a lot happier and most importantly, Diego is happier. It really is lovely to see him smile so much again! 
Five months after we met: I thought you’d like an update on how Diego is doing. For a start we’ve found a lovely dog sitter for him. Diego now spends usually a day a week with 4 St Bernards (the owners) and a few other dogs that are being looked after. He’s been so well behaved (apart from showing off how quick he can slip his collar), the gentleman who looks after him says he’s as good as gold.
On and even bigger note, Diego also had his first holiday last week. We stayed for 2 nights at a lovely dog friendly b&b – he was spoilt rotten with eggs and bacon for breakfast.  We were so pleased at how well he handled himself in an unfamiliar environment and with all the car travel – 2 hours! I know for a fact if we hadn’t called you in we wouldn’t have been able to take him away.
Our knowledge of his stress levels is so much better now and we’re always checking and adjusting depending on his needs. Diego really seems like a much happier dog now 🙂
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Diego. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear or any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

 

Guarding Human Resource is Stressful Work

Hector sees her as his human resource

Hector guards his human resourceThe lady hadn’t seen this as the cause of his growling.

She has two adorable and adored French Bulldogs, brother and sister aged nine months, Hector and Annie.

As is often the case with siblings, their nature and behaviour is entirely different.  As one may grow more overbearing, the other goes in the opposite direction.

Like many people, the lady shares her bed with her dogs. I have nothing against this at all – so long as no aggression is involved.

I would usually say that if a dog growls at the person in their own bed, then the dog should sleep elsewhere. It’s the same if the dog growls at another dog on the human’s bed.

Sometimes however we have to work our way around things if the obvious solution isn’t an option.

What happens is that Hector climbs up the little steps onto her bed, put there especially for the dogs. He has to be first up. Annie will climb up and Hector growls at her.

Hector will lie right on top of the lady, on her neck, during the night. He will growl at her if she manually tries to move him. He will growl at Annie if she comes near the lady so she has to lie down the end.

Everything points to Hector regarding the lady as his human resource. She sleeps in room with a glass roof. Small things dropping onto it make a noise and lights reflect. Hector stares upwards. He barks at sounds. He is on alert at night time

What a difficult job it must be to be the owner a wayward human!

No wonder Hector is stressed.

AnnieIn order to keep the dogs on her bed without Hector’s guarding of his human resource getting worse, she needs a plan.

During the day she will play ‘bed training games’ with the dogs.

She will teach them ‘up’ and ‘down’ the steps individually using rewards. Fortunately she has a very wide bed against a wall and can put two dog beds on it.

She will teach Hector ‘Bed’ to go into his own bed and reward him. The same with Annie. With lots of daytime repetition they will go up the steps and into their beds when asked.

At bedtime Annie should go up first.

The dogs may not stay in their beds but Hector will be sent back to his bed any time he growls. It’s not punishment and will be done kindly with rewards. He’s not being naughty after all. He is doing his best to do the impossible job that he’s unintentionally been given. If he lies on top of the lady’s neck she can roll over or sit up to tip him off (he growls if manhandled). She can send him to his bed and he should take himself there happily if properly trained using food reinforcement.

It will be hard work but the necessary price she must pay if she wants to keep him on her bed.

It will surely ultimately be a great relief to Hector.

The lady behaves like his slave. He regards her as his human resource.

As I’m always saying, you get back what you give.

This is the only shadow on their otherwise perfect life.

She takes them both to work with her where they spend a lot of time outside having fun. The two little dogs sit on the seat beside her in her van. Hector is always lifted in first and growls at Annie when she is put in.

The same human resource guarding also happens here. She gives the man who works with her a lift. Hector is between him and the lady. He growls at the man as he gets in and goes for him every time he so much as moves his arm or hand.

The lady is adamant that she doesn’t want the dogs crated in the back, so again we have to work around the obvious solution by being more creative.

Hector will be put in the foot well where he seems to be more relaxed and further away from the lady. Annie should be lifted into the van first.

As the man gets in, to help Hector to feel good about him he will drop a piece of food.

If he still growls when the man gets in, the lady will need to lift her little dog out and let the man get in first.

In other aspects of his life we have discussed how the lady can to stop Hector regarding her as his human resource.

Resource guarding isn’t always food and bones of course. It can be over a person, a place or even the dog’s own personal space.

Guarding his human resource is a big job for a little dog! Hector will be a lot happier when relieved of it.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Hector and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression of any kind is concerned. EVerything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Snapping, But Only at Family Members

I met Theo today!

Theo is a ten-month-old Cockerpoo who lives with another Cockerpoo, Otto, who is six years and much more sensible!

snapping at family members

Theo with a new haircut

Theo is a live wire, friendly, affectionate and funny.

For some reason, though, there are times when he snaps. They feel that he’s unpredictable, but on looking more closely, the snapping can actually be predicted – at least, the triggers can.

The snapping began immediately after he was castrated.

It was the second day after he’d been castrated a couple of months ago. They had taken his ‘lampshade’ off because he couldn’t eat with it on. It was when they went to put it back on that he went for them.

Things went downhill after this with Theo’s snapping.

Looking back one can understand at the time he may still have been suffering from the anaesthetic and the collar must have been a great annoyance. He simply didn’t want to by pulled about anymore. He snapped.

It took them totally by surprise.

One thing he will have quickly learnt is that snapping makes people recoil and back off. Now, whenever he doesn’t want to be touched or pulled about, he air snaps. Snapping works. They stop.

Very fortunately he’s not yet drawn blood but the direction things are going it’s only a matter of time before the snapping becomes real biting if something isn’t done.

It’s a shame because he is such a friendly little dog. He loves self-initiated cuddles. When out in crowds he seems to revel in lots of attention and being touched. The snapping has only happened to family members so far.

The incidents can be grouped into snapping when he’s been touched whilst resting or sleeping and most particularly if it’s come as a surprise; snapping when they try to take something off him; snapping when he’s pulled about in some way and simply doesn’t want it – like having his back legs toweled.

Like other people I have been to recently, Theo’s family is another that doesn’t regularly use food for reinforcement so they, too, are missing their trump card.

If the dog sees hands as the transporters of food, hands will be a lot more welcome!

One good thing is that he is fed on Bakers! Yes – this is good! It’s good because immediately they should be able to improve Theo’s mood by feeding him on something with healthier ingredients and without all those additives – better brain food.

Otto

Otto

They need to prevent any further rehearsal of the snapping. They now know his flash points and must avoid them.

No touching him when he’s resting because sometimes he snaps. No touching him when he’s sitting beside them on the sofa – because sometimes he snaps.

He sleeps on their bed. Inadvertently the other night, the lady put her hand on him and he flew at them in their own bed. He was wild, snapping repeatedly as they held up the duvet to protect themselves.

They will now shut him out of their bedroom.

They will no longer try to take anything off him. If something is dropped on the floor and he looks like he wants it, they will no longer simply bend over and pick it up – just in case he snaps at their hand!  

This is all well and good for now

It’s not a way to live into the future and it’s not realistic to expect people to be on high alert all the time, so work needs to be done.

I concocted some exercise and set-ups for the family to work through Theo’s issues with him. In brief these include:

Getting him to touch their hands when they ask him to with some clicker training.

When he’s lying on the sofa, sitting down away from him and calling him over. If he comes to them he gets a reward and a brief fuss. If he doesn’t they leave him be.

They will swap an item he’s holding for food, admire it, making a game of it, giving it back.

They will then swap items for food and sometimes keep them.

Because they are afraid to pick up dropped items without Theo snapping, they will deliberately drop things he might find interesting – little bits of rubbish and point it out to him – ‘Look!’. Having thanked him and exchanged for something better, if it’s something he would like they can give it to him.

Snapping is rarely totally unpredictable unless the dog is asleep and taken by surprise, which is predictable in a way with a dog like Theo. He will give some subtle warning. Maybe little signs in quick succession which with more knowledge they will pick up on. They can check when he does come over to him that touching is what he wants. Does your dog want to be petted – consent test

It’s a bit strange that Theo’s change in behaviour came on so suddenly. I’m told that in the past he has twitched or sort of hiccuped at times, and I noticed he made a few twitches like little spasms when he was on his back. If things don’t greatly improve with the snapping, he will go back to the vet for more extensive tests.

Being Theo myself, going to a Theo was funny!

I called him “Theo, Come! and gave him a treat. Reinforcement is vital.

If someone called me “Theo, come!” and when I got there the person simply shrugged and said ‘”nothing”, I would probably ignore them another time!

I would like Cadbury’s Wholenut Chocolate please.

TheoIt’s two-and-a-half months now: We are so pleased with Theo.  He is such a different dog to the one you met.  The best thing is that, with your help and guidance, it has all come about through kindness and understanding, which is how we have always wanted it to be.The more affection he gets, the more he wants.  He will often come and sit at my feet, asking for his tummy to be tickled, or will just come and rest his chin on my lap.  He walks around the house wagging his tail.  Theo is such a bright dog; we just love being with him each day. We seem to have reached a very happy understanding of one another and we have a routine that works for all of us. Thank you so much for all your help.  We are so grateful.
Three weeks after my visit: We have had another super week with Theo. No flashpoints, just a lovely happy dog. This morning I walked the dogs with a friend and her sensible Labrador. We let them all of the leads as we were on a track surrounded by fields. Theo was brilliant; he stayed on the footpath and came straight back whenever I called him, no matter how far ahead or behind he was.
Two weeks have gone by and I have received email feedback ending: “We are really pleased with progress far.  Your guidance has been invaluable.  Within the first week, we were all just feeling relieved at the improvement in his behaviour (and probably ours!) and we felt we could at least live with him.  Now, at the end of two weeks, I can honestly say it is a pleasure to be with him.  He is having fun, he is affectionate and more relaxed. We realise that we need to be aware of our actions and his possible reactions, but it is so rewarding to work with him”.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Theo and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression of ny kind is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Calm People for a Calm Dog

I am getting a little run of cases involving dogs growling at the kids – probably a sign that it’s time for them to go back to schooPenny is fine when things are calml after six weeks at home with the dog!

Penny is a fifteen-month-old Beagle Jack Russell mix. She is a sweetie – friendly and bouncy if a bit lacking in self-control. She lives in a family household that at certain times can get her too aroused.

Along with over-arousal come the unwanted behaviours. She may steal something and run off with it. As a puppy they would chase her and corner her, forcing the item off her with no exchange. This can often develop into possessive behaviours as the dog gets a bit older, particularly if food isn’t routinely used for exchange and reward.

Calm people, calm dog.

Each incident they told me about seemed to be when the atmosphere was far from calm, which in a house with kids is often the case.

There are particular flash points during the day, the first when the children are getting ready for school which is a very common time for trouble with young, excitable dogs.  Another time when it’s not calm is in the evening when the young boy becomes noisy or erratic as his ADHD medication wears off. Penny may leap at the boy’s clothes and nip him. On these occasions she can be put behind the gate with something to chew.

Both children can learn about Penny’s ‘smelly bubble’. If she’s resting they must not burst this invisible bubble which is about a meter in diameter. If they do a revolting smell comes out – the young boy gave his suggestion as to what that might be! Mum will need to be quite alert and help Penny out when the children, particularly the boy, is too hyped up.

When the man arrived he gave Penny such an enthusiastic welcome that she peed.

Reunitings need to be calm also.

Penny’s good points outweigh any negatives. She is great on walks, so good that the young daughter can walk her and she’s not a big barker. She is extremely friendly and would be very willing and trainable giving sufficient motivation.

She’s not really aggressive either. She has been inadvertently taught to defend things that are in her mouth, particularly if she has pinched them. They will now actively do exchange games and never again take anything off her without swapping for something she likes better and if the item isn’t important they will walk away and ignore it. There will be no fun in that!

I was with them for over two hours and saw no sign of possessiveness. We kept things quite calm and I used food to reward her for everything I asked of her and she was like putty in my hands. I did ‘give and take’ using food, allowing her to keep the item at the end.

When she’s excited, as she will be when they have friends or family round, she may growl and snap if someone drops something then goes to pick it up – Penny will have got there first.

She may also nick something if she’s getting insufficient attention.

If she is resting or asleep and calm, when a child suddenly leans over the sofa back to touch her or goes over to fuss her, she may growl. And why not? Growllng is talking. She is saying ‘go away and leave me alone’. That’s okay surely.

So, Penny needs ‘protecting’ from the situation when there is too much noise and excitement by being removed with something to do, she needs to be left alone when she’s resting and she needs to know that no longer will anyone take something off her without giving her something in exchange.

Nicking things will become boring if ignored.

They, like me, will use food to thank her for her cooperation when they ask her to do something and I feel she will soon be a different dog.

Here is a great little article from 3LostDogs.com on the subject of resource guarding.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Penny and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where any form of aggression is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

 

Snapping at the Kids and Growling

Things are a whole lot more serious when children are involved.

Alfie lunging and snapping at child was a complete surpriseThis is from the original email the lady sent me: “Alfie has started growling around his food, toys and bed since June. He is very possessive and he bit me once as well. We have been trying to stop him from growling especially with his food, using technique like sit and stay before feeding him, stopping him when he is eating to give him treat, feeding him by hand. We really love Alfie, but because of his snapping I can’t relax when the kids want to play with him and I really don’t know how to stop him growling. I am concerned about my girls safety”.

Some weird advice had been given to them as I could see from the message. They were also told the dog had to be made to sit and watch them eat before being fed himself. Oh dear.

9-month-old Cockerpoo Alfie greeted me with enthusiasm and some jumping up – a little mouthing. A gorgeous, playful, friendly little dog. It was hard to see how he would ever be aggressive.

A couple of hours later, I saw it for myself.

If something suddenly changes in a dog’s behaviour, the first step is a full vet check. Their vet had given him a clean bill of health and advised them to get behaviour help.

The growling, lunging and snapping had started quite suddenly three months ago when he bit the lady’s arm. He had walked away from his still full food bowl, she had walked towards him and he flew at her, biting her arm and drawing blood. It was a huge shock as he had never shown any aggression previously.

After discussion and dissecting each incident it seems that, although food may sometimes be involved, it’s more about Alfie guarding entrances/doorways, mostly from the two little girls aged 6 and 8. It is also possible he’s guarding his own space. Maybe he is guarding the mum or dad who on several occasions had been beside him as a child approached and he growled. This was the case when I saw it happen myself. What a shock.

Being approached directly is what each incident has in common.

Alfie has been scolded for growling so he may now be taking it to the next stage – snapping. A couple of times he had sprung towards a child, growling and snapping at her arm. The change from friendly playmate to growling and snapping dog is sudden and unpredictable.  They can’t be looking at him all the time for subtle signs.

Fortunately no harm has been done yet. It’s still a warning. ‘Go away’.

There have also been a couple of incidents around food. I watched him eat his dinner and he kept breaking off to look around at where the children were playing.

On the first occasion it almost certainly was associated with over-arousal. The family had been away and Alfie had stayed with the doggy daycare. He normally is there for a couple of days a week but this time it was for five days and nights. Daytime there are around fifteen dogs, all loose in a field doing their own thing all day. We know that unsupervised dog play very often gets out of hand, particularly when there are lots of dogs involved.

What, too, about sleep deprivation and the ongoing effect this may have had? Most dogs in a ‘normal’ environment spend a great portion of the day asleep.

What else may Alfie be learning? He has been going there since he was three months old and was six months when the first incident happened.

He may well be learning or even copying behaviours involving guarding areas or resources along with protecting his personal space and probably his food. He also will have learnt that growling and snapping at the other dogs keeps them away. Being dogs and not children, they would understand and get the message.

Alfie’s arousal levels will have been through the roof after five days of this.

The more questions I asked the more it became evident that most of the episodes they could remember came after Alfie having stayed at the daycare.

The first step is to leave daycare and find a dog walker who will come once or twice a day, take him out with no more than two other dogs then bring him home again.

Because children are involved, the priority has to be their safety, so management must be put in place straight away. There is one doorway where could put a gate, allowing the dog to be separated from the kids and the lady to relax. It is putting a terrible strain upon her now.

Alfie suddenly flew out from under the table, snapping at the child’s arm.

I sat chatting at the kitchen table. All was peaceful, the little girls were upstairs amusing themselves. The couple were the other end of the table nearest to the door and Alfie was under the table between them.

The eight-year-old opened the door and walked in. With no warning that I could see (he was under the table), Alfie sprung out, growling, snapping at the child’s arm. Thank goodness no harm was done. This is a good example of how children may not always be safe even with their parents right beside them.

The man himself hadn’t actually witnessed more than growling before and now was understanding a lot better his wife’s anxiety and why she is constantly on edge.

BenbowAlfie1

Again, Alfie had been at daycare for several days and nights and the lady had only returned from overseas the day before I came. Alfie’s ‘stress bucket’ will have been full already. The children had been on school holidays for several weeks now so there was more excitement……and the I arrived!

After the gate, the second management thing is to wean Alfie into wearing a muzzle. Muzzling him for short periods at a time will allow the lady some respite. Alfie will certainly be picking up on her tension, adding to the stress. She is watching all the time ‘No Alfie!, No Alfie!’.

In addition to management, reducing Alfie’s stress levels in every way possible, working directly on Alfie’s guarding behaviour, the behaviour of the little girls has to be modified as well.

Instead of feeding him in the kitchen where everyone walks past, they will now feed him out of the way in the utility room – and leave him strictly alone. If anyone has to walk through, they will just drop something very nice either in or near to his bowl as they pass. No more silly tricks around food and meals.

They will work at getting him to give up and exchange things willingly. They will use food to motivate and reward him – something they don’t currently do.

As well as the work with Alfie, the little girls have their own tasks. Holding a child’s hand, I rehearsed walking towards an imaginary Alfie but in an arc or to the side of him, then with the dog himself, avoiding eye contact.

If he is lying or sitting very still, staring, they should turn around and go away. If he growls they should turn around and go away.

Before opening the gate they can call him over, drop him a treat (some will be on the shelf nearby) before opening it. This will break any staring; in addition Alfie should begin to feel good about the girls walking in the door. Mum can do some work with them too. Sitting facing a doorway with Alfie on lead, her little girls can rehearse over and over how they should walk in and past Alfie.

Child training! They are very young and will still need constant reminding.

Here is a video for them to watch.

I sincerely hope with no more bad habits and over-arousal from the daycare, with some positive training around resources and people coming through doorways, the much-loved Alfie will stop all growling and snapping, that he will go back to being the trustworthy, child-friendly dog he used to be only three months ago.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Alfie and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Eating Rubbish

Red and White King Charles Spaniel who likes eating rubbishLittle Chutney, an adorable six-month-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, at twelve weeks of age became very ill. What was probably kennel cough quickly developed into pneumonia and he ended up in veterinary hospital and was on various drugs for a couple of months. He nearly died. Normal puppyhood was suspended.

He is now catching up.

Understandably his owners are inclined to mollycoddle him and panic, particularly when he picks something up like a twig or a piece of paper. They had initially wrongly believed his illness had been due to inhaling something, and their understandable reaction to his running off with a twig for example – chasing him, enticing him, bribing him then maybe forcing the item off him – is now actually making his ‘scavenging’ for things like twigs, leaves and bits of paper and eating rubbish a lot worse.

The chase that ensues will be stimulating and maybe even a little scary and he is responding with the beginnings of resource guarding behaviour.

I’ve not myself come across a dog that has suffered though swallowing a small piece of paper or tissue though there may be isolated cases, unless the dog has a serious pica disorder. Usually if a tiny twig is swallowed it’s chewed up first and passes through – though certainly could harm if swallowed whole. If chewing twigs, paper and non-poisonous leaves regularly killed puppies, there would be a lot of dead puppies.

Chutney’s owners will need to relax if he’s to change because the longer he rehearses the ‘scavenge/chase/retrieve the item’ cycle the more entrenched it becomes. Management is the first thing. Already they are taking him outside to toilet on lead. They could introduce him to a tiny basket muzzle for the garden – he can drink and pant but not pick things up. They probably have already checked their garden for any poisonous plants or leaves.

Indoors they should no longer give him free run. For now he should be in the same room as themselves or shut in his crate where he is perfectly happy, with something to do. Anything obviously worrying should be lifted (as it is already).Chutney2

The next and most difficult thing for this lovely couple is to make an assessment as to whether the object could really harm Chutney and if not to ignore it. If it’s a tissue, so be it. He may well intensify his efforts when he no longer gets the predicted result so they could try walking out on him and shutting the door briefly rather than reacting.

Because he is still a puppy and at last feeling well enough to make up for lost time, they should give him plenty of things that he can chew and not just commercial items. He can have milk cartons, toilet roll tubes and plastic water bottles with kibble in, for instance. If they are not left down they will have some novelty value.

The last challenge is how to get things off him that may be dangerous. The more he knows they want the item, the more valuable it becomes to him and the more likely he is to swallow it to make sure that they don’t get it! Scattering food on the floor works well – it may need to be strong-smelling – so that he drops the item to get the food giving time to lift the item with no fuss.

Running off with things needs to be replaced with exchanging them. I do this from the start with my own dogs. When puppy has a toy in his mouth I say Give and feed him in return. I will admire the toy and then give it back to him. My dogs love giving me things! The secret, when taking something away, is to offer the dog something of higher value to him until ‘Give’ is firmly established.

If one of my dogs has something that I want in his or her mouth, they will always drop the item into my hand when I ask for it and I always, without fail, say thank you with a piece of kibble I have in my pocket (though I understand not everybody is like me, carrying dog food around all the time!).

They can set him up with a game that has several items in order of value to him, then offer the lowest and exchange for the next one up and so on, allowing him to keep the last, most valuable one – probably a food item. Tug of war is a great game for playing Take’ and ‘Give’. ‘Leave it’ is useful too when you happen to see the dog about to pick something up.

The other challenge with Chutney is that he may ignore them when they call him.

Eventually and with some hard work on his recall and ‘Give’, when Chutney has something inappropriate in his mouth they will be able to call him to them. He will come straight away and give it up willingly, being rewarded for doing so.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Chutney. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good.  One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).